Tuesday, September 19, 2006

In Response To A Letter To The Editor, Vol. VI

From The Virginian Pilot, 09.16.06

To the Editor:

I don't think Sen. Allen should have apologized to blacks for displaying the Confederate flag. It is a part of history. The Civil War was not over slavery. It was over states' rights . Approximately 5 percent of the South, the plantation owners, had slaves. They were in the states where cotton grew. Why would the rest of the South fight a war when they owned no slaves?

Blacks perceiving the flag as offensive is wrong. Why shouldn't there be a Confederate History Month in Virginia? Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were two of the best generals the country ever produced. Lincoln offered Lee the position of commander-in-chief of the Union forces.

Blacks have Black History Month and nobody complains.

--Charlene, Norfolk

To Charlene:

Bless your lil' heart, you are so misguided!

Honey, if you're gonna capitalize "Confederate" and "South" you have to capitalize "Blacks" too. Otherwise it looks like you might be (whispered) a racist.

More importantly, Senator Allen has a lot to apologize for regarding race issues alone. Recognizing that symbols mean different things to different people and expressing regret for flying the Confederate flag is a good start. More meaningful, of course, would be an apology for decorating his law office with a noose slung casually over the branch of a tree.

The Confederate flag is certainly, as you said, a part of our country's history and is therefore worth studying. However, there is a vast difference between studying the flag as a symbol of past injustices to be avoided, and in glorifying -- as Allen does -- the history of racism and oppression that flag represents.

I can appreciate your assertion that the Civil War was fought over states' rights and not over slavery. Having been schooled in the cradle of the Confederacy, I once worshipped at that same altar myself. However, even an amateur student of History can tell you that the right the Confederate states were fighting for was the right to own slaves.

Slavery was why the Northern and Southern states struck compromise after compromise throughout the early 1800s (Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc.) to maintain a balance of slave and free states in Congress, and slavery was the primary reason the Confederate states seceded from the Union upon Lincoln's election in 1860. Despite his repeated assurances to the contrary and his well-publicized position that Blacks were inferior to Whites, Southerners feared that Lincoln intended to abolish slavery and that he therefore posed a threat to the Southern way of life.

As to the percentage of Southerners who owned slaves, historian Kenneth M. Stampp -- an expert on the institution of slavery -- tells us that roughly 25% -- not 5% -- of the Southern population owned slaves:

Not only was the "typical" slaveholder not a planter, but the "typical" planter worked only a moderate-sized gang of from twenty to fifty slaves. . . .The extremely wealthy families who owned more than a hundred slaves numbered less than three thousand, a tiny fraction of the southern population.
Like maybe 5%?

And I'll let Stampp answer your question, "Why would the rest of the South fight when they owned no slaves?" since he goes on to explain that even non-slaveowners had a stake in preserving what he calls "the peculiar institution."
If the direct ownership of slave property had been the only way in which Southerners had become personally involved in the slave system, relatively few of them would have had an interest in preserving it. . . .For the nearly three-fourths of the southern whites who owned no slaves it provided less tangible things: a means of controlling the social and economic competition of Negroes, concrete evidence of membership in a superior caste, a chance perhaps to rise into the planter class. Whatever the reason, most of the nonslaveholders seemed to feel that their interest required them to defend their peculiar institution.
Not to mention the fact that wealthy plantation owners drafted into the Confederate army could pay others to fight in their stead.

There shouldn't be a Confederate History Month in Virginia for the same reason there shouldn't be a Nazi History Month in Germany or a Taliban History Month in Afghanistan. Because while setting aside months to recognize and learn from past atrocities is valuable, glorifying those atrocites in the name of heritage and pretending they're not atrocious is shameful.

--Megan, Norfolk

Oh, and PS: Stonewall Jackson, despite being shot by his own men and thereby displaying a certain amount of ineptitude, is hot. That beard. . .those eyes. . .so dreamy.

I'm sorry. Really. I went on and on about how bad the actual Confederacy is, but you just can't cure me of my love for certain Confederate generals. Namely Lee and Jackson. And Longstreet. Poor poor Longstreet.

You know who sucks though? JEB Stuart. Absolutely fucking sucks.


lulu said...

You know Megan, I am really glad to have met you, because, honestly, my opinion of Southerners is based on women like this one. If I hear the accent I immediately assume Confederate-flag waving, redneck.

The first time I saw the Confederate flag flying over the Capitol in SOuth Carolina I thought "Do they know the war is over? It seems like some people have never quite figured that out.

Megan said...

The war of Northern aggression, you mean?

And there are a variety of Southern accents. I like to think that I have neither the redneck accent nor the Scarlett O'Hara accent. I can't stand that bitch, by the way.

Phil said...

Great post. I've got a thing for Civil War history, my Dad is going to Gettysburg next week and I can't go.

I always figured it was the guys themselves who shot Jackson who were inept.

Stuart wasn't so bad, he dropped the ball at Gettysburg.

Longstreet is starting to get his due.

You ever visit the battlefields?

Megan said...

Phil: You're probably right about Jackson. Not his fault. And yes, Stuart TOTALLY dropped the ball at Gettysburg.

Battlefields. . .dude, I am FROM Virginia. . .I've been to my fair share.

Book recommendation: Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz. A sort of Civil War battlefield travelouge that explores the South's undying obsession with the war. Very good.

Coaster Punchman said...

I'm so glad someone can take the time & trouble to compile the facts needed to counter someone like the author of the letter. Many of us like to bitch, but few of us go to the trouble you did. Thank you.

Phil said...

Thanks, I think I'll pick that up for my Dad's trip.

lulu said...

COnfederates in the Attic rocked. Have you read Blue Latitudes yet?

Yeah, I know there are about a million different accents, you know the one I mean...the not so smart one.

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

I adore you. I don't know you, but I adore you.

Blogs like this are the reason. your students are lucky to have you!

And in all my book reading years (and i've gone thru stacks, to be sure) no one book has ever had me so enraged that I threw it across the room upon completion as Gone With the Wind did. I always thought Scarlett was a contemptable, whiny, bitch myself. :)

vikkitikkitavi said...

Megan, I love it when you do the letter-answering feature. So cathartic.

There's really nobody on the Northern (caps!) side of the Civil War to get all goo-goo eyed over. Grant - ugh! McClellan - please! Sherman - as if!

Maybe my problem is that I just can't get down with that mid-19th century fanciful facial hair thing.

Oh, and the accent thing. It really bugs the shit out of me when non-southern actors overdo the southern accent. Like Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear. He sounded like Foghorn Leghorn!

Brian said...

Yeah, us Southerners with our goddamn accents. We're just so fucking stupid. And everyone knows, if you have a Southern accent you just love that Confederate flag and everything it stands for, not to mention we're totally incapable of seeing through the bullshit people try to feed you about that particular flag.

Too bad we're not as privledged to have been blessed with a Northern education. That would've taken care of the stupid problem, AND the accent problem.

Chris said...

Another gem of a letter, Megan. I, for one, find the southern accent appealing. To me, it doesn't connote ignorance. One thing I've learned from my extensive U.S. travel is that ignorance is everywhere: cities, rural areas, north, south, etc. It's not how you say something, but what you say that I'm interested in.
PS- I am awesome.

lulu said...

It is so not worth getting into a flame war with you Brian.

If that is how you want to interpret my comments, go ahead.

Megan said...

CP: Trouble? What are you talking about? I knocked that thing out in like 10 minutes. I have Stampp's book memorized.

Truth is, one of the things I miss most about college is writing papers, so this is kind of like that.

Lu: No to Blue Latitudes. Should I add it to my list? And did you know his wife is Geraldine Brooks who wrote Nine Parts of Desire and some novels, one of which won the Pulitzer last year?

Vegan: Wow, thanks! I'll be over to visit.

Vikki: I enjoy the letter-writing. I've recently had emails or comments from some of the people whose letters I've responded to, which is a little weird.

And oh my god, Sherman is such a BASTARD! McClellan, according to my Civil War professor, was a pussy.

Brian: It's "we" Southerners.

Chris: Oh that is such a lie! What if I had a whole bunch of "likes" and "y'knows" all through there? How 'bout that, huh?

And we already knew you were awesome.

Lu: It's not just you. He's flaming Vikki too. They have an ongoing beef about higher education.

To whom it may concern: My word verification is "jfkcow."

jd said...

Whoa Nelly, you little Blue Belly. Who cares if the Junior Senator from the Commonwealth has a Stars-and-Bars Jones. Face it, he has bigger problems than that, with all those Rabbis chasing him around with VERY DULL izmels. What are YOU trying to remove from the boy? Leave both him and the flowers of the Confederacy who choose to defend him alone - just like the voters will in November.

Unclejbird said...

"What's so civil about war anyway?"
- Axl Rose

I've been to the inn in Mercersburg, PA, where JEB Stuart holed up and partied, thereby making himself late for Gettysburg. Great place to crash while your buddies are getting their asses handed to them.

Megan said...

JD: You've met me, right? I CAN'T leave him alone! He makes me angry.

JBird: Fucking JEB Stuart. And nice GNR quotation. ROCK ON!

jd said...

Yes. Three things: Stampp is such a peculiar choice. He's so last generation - don't you think. Stuart has too many first names to be trusted. And Laugh a Little. That way our Boy George will appear as comical as he should. After all, he's stuck is a steaming pile of macaca of his own making.

Megan said...

Stampp was on my bookshelf, man. It's not like Ulrich B. Phillips (also on my bookshelf) would have been particularly helpful here. Who's doing revisionist slavery history these days anyway? I mean besides Zinn.

Laugh a little. . .Didn't you just tell me that a week ago? Will I never learn? Note to self: work on taking shit less seriously.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Megan: Oooh, the people who email you must be Googling themselves, huh? I'm so curious about whether any of them had anything intelligent to say to you.

BTW, if Brian is flaming me, 1) I don't get it, because I was making fun of people who sterotype Southerners, and 2) I give. There's no point in dogging the blogger's brother.

Megan said...

Vikki: Yep, google strikes again. There's a lengthy (and intelligent) comment on vol. 1. Other than that, no. And Brian. . .maybe it was just Lulu. ..hard to say these days.